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Diversity and Inclusion

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DIVERSITY_ACHIEVEMENT_OFFICE

In Defense of Pop Culture

Lisa Doris Alexander ’97 presents “In Defense of Pop Culture: What Film, Television and Sports Tell Us about Race Relations in the United States” in a free, public event at 11 a.m.Thursday, Nov. 17, in Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center, Room 101.

Alexander, associate professor of African American studies at Wayne State University, will discuss the current state of race in popular culture in three cases, including:

  • white-washing and gender-bending,
  • Shonda Rhime’s portrayal of black women on her television shows (Scandal), and
  • the implications of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s protests against racial injustice.

She argues that while pop culture is often not seen as “scholarly,” because these movies and television shows are created by human beings, their implicit and and explicit biases may be seen in their work and should be investigated.

Alexander graduated from Grinnell with a bachelor’s degree in political science with a concentration in Afro-American studies. She went on to receive her master’s in Afro-American studies from the University of California–Los Angeles, and a doctorate from Bowling Green State University in American culture studies, specializing in critical studies in film, media, and culture.

Cover of When Baseball  Isn't White, Straight and Male: The media and difference in the national pasttimeShe has published a book, When Baseball Wasn’t White Straight and Male: The Media and Difference in the National Pastime, and numerous articles and book reviews. She is also the recipient of several fellowships and grants from institutions including the Peter Rollins Travel Grant from the American Culture Association and a Lausanne Dissertation Fellowship from Willamette University.

The American Studies department, the Alumni in the Classroom program and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion are sponsoring Alexander’s talk.

Grinnell College welcomes the participation of people with disabilities. You can request accommodations from Conference Operations.

Important: The College welcomes the presence of minors at all age-appropriate public events and for informal visits, with the understanding that a parent, legal guardian, or other responsible adult assumes full responsibility for their child’s safety and behavior during such visits or events. In these cases the College expects that an adult responsible for the visiting child takes measures to ensure the child’s safety and sees that the child complies with directions of College personnel. Grinnell College is not responsible for supervision of minors on campus.

Bridging Scholarship and Activism

BlainGrinnell College's celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day will feature a speech on Tuesday, Jan. 26, by University of Iowa Assistant Professor of History Keisha N. Blain.

Although Jan. 18 was the King Holiday, the College is celebrating it on Jan. 26, the day after classes begin for the 2016 spring semester.

Blain's speech, titled "Bridging Scholarship and Activism: Reflections on the #Charlestonsyllabus," will begin at 5:30 p.m. in the Joe Rosenfield '25 Center Room 101. Immediately following the talk, Blain will join attendees in a buffet dinner. Both the speech and dinner are free and open to the public.

"Dr. Blain is a rising academic whose work demonstrates how scholarship and activism for social change can and must be connected," said Professor of History Sarah Purcell, who also directs the Rosenfield Program in Public Affairs, International Relations, and Human Rights

"She will speak about connections in her own work on African American history," Purcell added, "and her work to educate the public about historical context necessary for understanding the Charleston shootings and continuing to combat white supremacy. Anyone with an interest in racial justice, current affairs, or history should not miss this talk."

Blain is one of the co-developers #Charlestonsyllabus, a Twitter movement and crowdsourced list of reading recommendations relating to the history of racial violence in the United States. It was created in response to the racially motivated shooting that took place in June 2015 during a Bible study class in a church in Charleston, South Carolina. The reading list has drawn international media attention from news outlets such as PBS, BBC, NPR, The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times.

Blain also is a co-editor of "Charleston Syllabus: Readings on Race, Racism and Racial Violence," forthcoming later this year from the University of Georgia Press. In addition, she is completing her first solo-authored book, "Contesting the Global Color Line: Black Women, Nationalist Politics, and Internationalism," which is forthcoming from the University of Pennsylvania Press.

Grinnell College's Rosenfield Program in Public Affairs, International Relations, and Human Rights is sponsoring Blain's speech and the buffet dinner. The Office of Diversity and Inclusion is co-sponsoring the events.

Up From the Roots

Musicians Randye Jones of Grinnell College and Damani Phillips of the University of Iowa will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by sharing the rich history of the music of the African-American tradition.

The 13th Amendment, which officially abolished slavery in America, was ratified by the states on Dec. 6, 1865, eight months after the Civil War ended.

To mark this milestone, Jones and Phillips will present a free public lecture, "Up From the Roots," and a musical performance at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 4, in Herrick Chapel.

They will explore the development of music from the end of the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement, including spirituals, gospel, jazz, blues, and rhythm and blues.

The Office of Intercultural Affairs and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion are sponsoring the event.

Grinnell welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. You can request accommodations from the event sponsor or Conference Operations and Events.

Randye Jones

Randye JonesJones, a soprano and researcher, is a doctoral student in vocal literature at the University of Iowa. She also serves as media room supervisor in Burling Library at Grinnell College.

Jones has gained recognition for her writings on African-American vocalists and composers, and as a performer and lecturer through her projects, "The Art of the Negro Spiritual, Afrocentric Voices in Classical Music," and the recently published "The Spirituals Database."

She regularly presents lecture-recitals and concerts, and serves as a panelist at events such as the Research, Education, Activism, and Performance (REAP) National Conference on Spirituals, African American Art Song Alliance Conference, and the National Association of Negro Musicians conference.  

Damani Phillips

Damani PhillipsPhillips, formerly on the music faculty at Grinnell College, is an assistant professor of jazz studies and African-American studies at the University of Iowa.

An active saxophone player, pedagogue, and composer, Phillips has taught and performed throughout the United States, England, and Japan, and is actively sought as a guest artist, clinician and adjudicator. Phillips has performed with artists/groups such as Lewis Nash, Christian McBride, the touring Dave Matthews cover band "Crush," and many others. He has released five albums of his own, including his most recent recording project, "Duality," a double album featuring a unique synergy between straight-ahead jazz and hip hop music.

Campus Climate Solidarity—Call to Action

In recent weeks, many historically underrepresented students have been deeply affected by events highlighting racism and inequity occurring across the country at various colleges and universities. In this timely moment, we have an opportunity to be proactive about the campus climate at Grinnell College and take time come together in solidarity towards long-term change in a sustainable way.

Concerned students, staff, and faculty have gathered and have co-created a list of recommendations that highlight key areas of campus life—inside and outside the classroom—that should remain in our collective consciousness and be addressed in order for sustainable change towards a more inclusive environment for all at Grinnell College. The following is a small part of an ongoing conversation, understanding not only that we must all work collectively across all levels of the college both interpersonally and structurally, but also that this is an ongoing commitment that we are invested in order to live out the college’s mission of social justice.

President Kington, Dean Latham, and the College administration strongly support the creation of a more inclusive and equitable campus climate. College staff are currently reviewing the proposed steps in detail and the plan is likely to include many of the items listed here. We will post progress updates on a quarterly basis, and will offer clear explanations of the status of recommendations to indicate which may be immediately accomplished, which will require further discussion and planning, and which may be impossible for regulatory or other reasons.

Policy Review and Implementation

  • Education to develop clarity around Bias-Motivated Incident Protocols
  • Overall improvement of our data collection and ongoing assessment of diversity and inclusion initiatives
  • Review of work-study regulations and the implications on students coming from a lower SES
  • Publish the results of reviews and consultant visits
  • Implement a class-free day of programming for faculty, staff, and students to discuss social identities, power, and privilege
  • Divestment from for-profit prisons

Curricular Recommendations

  • Time devoted in every tutorial class to discussing –isms in contemporary society
  • Additional curricular offerings that directly address –isms in contemporary society
  • Creation of African-American Studies Major and Concentration

Co-Curricular Recommendations

  • Raising awareness around contemporary issues of Indigenous Peoples
  • Programming around knowing your rights when faced with discrimination
  • Portion of the Innovation Fund dedicated to projects focused on Diversity and Inclusion
  • Student Advisors in the Residence Halls expanding their programming to include diversity and inclusion dialogue
  • Bringing in more speakers of color through the Rosenfield, Wilson, Departmental programs (also curricular)
  • Continuing to raise awareness on Title IX, Race-Related issues, individually and their intersectionality
  • Provide funding for opportunities to connect to schools, regional and national organizations who are involved in diversity and inclusion work full-time

City of Grinnell-Grinnell College Relations

  • Partnership with City Officials to develop protocols around responses to bias-motivated incidents that occur in the city of Grinnell
  • Create community relations and mentor programs to facilitate increased meaningful connection between the college and the City of Grinnell
  • Partner with Grinnell Police Department to educate around issues of bias related to students

Training and Development Opportunities

  • Ongoing and regular diversity and inclusion training for staff, faculty, and students that address the curricular and co-curricular experience
  • Expanding diversity and inclusion programs during and beyond New Student Orientation for all students
  • Fall and Spring semester diversity and inclusion training for student leaders and student groups that includes how to have hard conversations, implicit bias, microaggressions, privilege, and power
  • Address the cultural appropriation in menu nomenclature and theme nights in the dining hall
  • Providing additional information and context to our international students of color about the history of U.S. racism and training on how to navigate their identities in that space

Recruitment and Retention Strategies

  • Increase recruitment of faculty and staff from diverse backgrounds
  • Increase recruitment of students from diverse backgrounds
  • Increase retention efforts for students, staff, and faculty of color, including exit interviews for underrepresented staff, faculty, and students who leave
  • Departmental review to examine successes and failures at retaining underrepresented faculty and staff
  • Increase the number of shuttles to cities across the state (Des Moines, Iowa City, Cedar Rapids)
  • Provide a concerted effort to ensure that students, staff, and faculty have access to mental health providers from diverse backgrounds who are trained to work with diverse populations

Alumni Connections

  • Developing a focused mentoring program for alumni and students
  • Establishing an intercultural alumni weekend so that current students can network with underrepresented alumni

Physical Spaces

  • Decorating spaces (art, murals, etc.) that reflect the various identities on our campus

Updates

Preview “Happy Birthday Marsha!” with Writers/Directors

Happy Birthday, Marsha “Happy Birthday, Marsha!” is a forthcoming film about legendary transgender artist and activist, Marsha “Pay it No Mind” Johnson and her life in the hours before the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City.

Join us for a discussion and preview screening of clips of the film with the writers and directors, Reina Gossett and Sasha Wortzel, at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 10, in Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center, Room 101.

The event is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served.

Sponsors include Gender, Women’s & Sexuality Studies, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the Department of History, the Center for the Humanities, and the Stonewall Resource Center.

Grinnell welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. Rosenfield Center has accessible parking in the lot to the east. Room 101 is equipped with an induction hearing loop system. You can request accommodations from the event sponsor or Conference Operations and Events.

Yesenia Ayala ’18 honored by White House

The White House recently recognized Yesenia Ayala ’18 for her courage and contributions to the Latino community in Iowa. She and 10 other young women were selected from more than 1,000 nominees as Champions of Change for empowering and inspiring members of their communities.

Ayala said later that the experience helped her go beyond her comfort zone to advocate for the community she loves and that needs support.

“Through my personal experience,” she added, “I was able to bring awareness to not only the local, state, but national community of the importance of mentoring and supporting students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and how we can all come together as one to make the movement work.”

As a service learning work-study student at Grinnell, Ayala works for Al Exito — a nonprofit group that empowers Latino youth in nine Iowa cities. She coordinates programming and mentoring for middle and high school Latino students, facilitates family programming and events, and engages other Grinnell students in encouraging Latino students to stay in school and plan for college.

Ayala also has designed and led workshops to inform Latino youth and their parents about the U.S. education system, financial aid, essay writing, and the college applications process. These activities promote more family involvement at school, greater civic engagement, and an increase in the likelihood that young Latinos will graduate from high school and pursue higher education.

A native of Los Angeles, Ayala is majoring in sociology and Spanish with a concentration in Latin American studies. She plans to pursue a law degree in civil rights upon graduation.

This fall, she continues to work with Al Exito to develop ways to incorporate teachers into the program, which Ayala hopes will expand statewide.  

Ayala’s Inspiration

Ayala talking with Auñón (who is in a NASA suit) at a gathering At a ceremony on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015, Ayala joined other Champions of Change in a panel discussion moderated by MTV video blogger Francesca Ramsey. Ramsey noted that it’s often tough to get Latino students and their families comfortable with the college application process when it’s a completely new experience for them. Then she asked Ayala: “What have you done as a leader to overcome some of those fears from students and parents that you’ve been working with?”

Ayala said she was inspired to do the work she is doing because she is a first-generation Latina college student who had a difficult journey from high school to college. She often shares her story at Al Exito events to inspire others.

“I was working fulltime at McDonald’s as a manager while in high school, I was going to high school in a very low-income community, and I was striving to get A’s,” she said. “I was also taking the responsibility and the role of helping my parents raise my siblings.”

Thanks to the encouragement of a high school English teacher, Ayala applied for a Posse Foundation scholarship, as did more than 2,100 students in LA. She was one of 112 selected, winning admission to Grinnell, where she receives a full-tuition scholarship and additional financial aid.

“In most Latino families and communities,” Ayala said, “it’s very difficult for parents to let their children aspire for higher education, because they come from a community where they don’t know anything about the U.S. education system. … So every time we conduct a workshop, it’s our opportunity to let our parents know, our community know, our students know that it may be difficult sometimes to break those boundaries, those cultural oppositions, but it’s okay to do it.  If you don’t take a risk, you never know how far you can go.”

Decoding Diversity

Lester Alemán ’07 became an advocate and a leader while a Posse Scholar at Grinnell College. He also worked as a program director for nearly four years at the Posse Foundation in Los Angeles. So it’s only fitting he had a chance showcase those skills while discussing the often controversial topic of diversity at the first-ever TEDxGrinnell event.

We talked with Lester about his TEDxGrinnell experience and time as a Grinnell student.  

What was it like giving a TEDxGrinnell talk?

Lester Alemen, left, talks to TEDx attendeesDelivering a TED Talk is, by far, one of the most challenging things I’ve done in my career. I’m honored that Grinnell College thought of me as someone who is a subject-matter expert in the field of diversity initiatives. My speech delivered a dose of obvious. But what’s more striking to me is that no matter how obvious diversity is in this country, we — as a nation— still resist it. I wrote my talk not only for the sociology majors of the country, but for people who need a reminder of what truly shapes this nation, and how we continuously perpetuate our lack of acceptance. “It’s not okay” somehow became my tag line. So when I think of how many people kept repeating that after my talk, I think I drove a message home. Now the work rests in the hands of those who listened.

Thinking back as a student, what is the most striking way you were affected by the culture shift from your home in Los Angeles to Grinnell?

Attending Grinnell College allowed me to understand the fabric of our social landscape. It also taught me to be very vocal and persuasive in the pursuit of social change. Going from an urban environment to a rural setting taught me to be adaptable. Those four years really shaped my vision for how I live my professional life.

What’s the most important piece of advice you would share with prospective Grinnellians?

The biggest piece of advice I can offer any prospective student is that Grinnell College is not the college for just anyone. Grinnell not only offers the unique opportunity to learn about the unique world we are all a part of, it offers the opportunity for you to truly become an agent of change. If change isn’t what you were made to do — then this isn’t the school for you. If change is what you live for, then welcome.

What’s the most important way Grinnell College assisted you in becoming the leader you are today?

There were caring adults who wanted nothing more than to see me thrive — and knew exactly how to help facilitate that growth. That was new for me. They taught me the most important thing a leader needs in this world: true and active compassion. 

  • Taking a course with Kesho Scott, associate professor of sociology and American studies, is a must for anyone that appreciates witty, insightful banter — the kind that gives you an eye-opening dose of what we are doing to each other in this world.
  • Karla Erickson, associate professor of sociology, taught me that only I could dictate my path and pushed me to make tough decisions as my major adviser.
  • Kara Lycke was a soundboard for the frustration I felt the more I learned about the injustices in our education system.
  • Judy Hunter had the patience to really teach me how to put my feelings and thoughts into words at the Writing Lab.
  • Katherine McClelland helped me overcome my fear of math so I could pass my statistics class.
  • The late Howard Burkle indulged all my life questions — and my appetite, I should add — as my Posse Mentor.
  • Charlie Duke gave my Posse a home away from home when Howard could no longer do that.

Alemán currently works at NBCUniversal in the Page Program, Talent Development Group.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration

In celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Patricia Williams of Columbia Law School and Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic will come to Grinnell College for events on Jan. 19-20. All events are free and open to the public, and will take place in Joe Rosenfield '25 Center, Room 101.

Patricia WilliamsOn Monday, Jan. 19, Williams, James L. Dohr Professor of Law at Columbia University and recipient of a 2000 MacArthur "genius grant," will give a "teach-in" on "Hoping Against Hopelessness: An Anatomy of Short Lives." The teach-in, an interactive mix of lecture and discussion, will start at 10:30 a.m. and resume at 1:30 p.m. after a break for lunch.

Ta-Nehisi CoatesOn Tuesday, Jan. 20 at 6 p.m., Coates, national correspondent for The Atlantic, will give a lecture titled "The Case for Reparations." Coates's June 2014 cover story of the same name, which focuses on race relations in America, set a record for number of downloads in a single day from The Atlantic's website.

"Fostering respectful interactions in a diverse community is a critical part of Grinnell's mission," says Poonam Arora, chief diversity officer and associate dean of Grinnell College. "It is an honor to welcome Mr. Coates and Professor Williams to Grinnell, and I look forward to hearing their words as we come together to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day."

Sponsors include the Office of Diversity and Inclusion; the Rosenfield Program in Public Affairs, International Relations, and Human Rights; the Office of the President; the Peace and Conflict Studies Program; the Center for Religion, Spirituality, and Social Justice; the Student Government Association; the Office of the Dean; and the Center for the Humanities.

Grinnell welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. The Joe Rosenfield '25 Center is located on Eighth Avenue, with accessible parking on the east side of the building. Room 101 is equipped with an induction hearing loop system. Accommodation requests may be made to Conference Operations at 641-269-3235 or calendar[at]grinnell[dot]edu.